Some time has passed since my last blog. My time in Kenya has been a funny one, different than past years. My first two years I worked in the vision clinic and recorded patient data in the computers in the evenings. I got very little sleep and loved how new all of it was. The next 3 years, my time was devoted to organizing the clinics, controlling the patient load and ensuring the doctors, nurses, dentists, and visions specialists had everything they needed (both Kenyan and Canadian). There was a lot of crowd control, estimation, walking, and sunburns, but mostly clinic management. The hours were long, but again, I loved them. On weekends, I organized our donations to make sure we had the right supplies going to the right places, but for the most part, I knew what I was getting into before each trip. This year though, is a different experience. It’s the main reason I haven’t blogged much. My role is a lot of scheduling. Keeping the 4 teams busy, with the supplies they need, going 4 different places, and with only 1 combi to do it all. The team has been amazing. They haven’t yet said a single negative thing and we’ve been together 14 hours a day for 10 days now. I’m really impressed with their willing spirit, and jovial nature. Our evenings are spent sharing our day, laughing at the embarrassing moments, and cracking up at Peter’s unexpected jokes and admiration of everything Chef Ken does.
The week was productive for each of the different teams. The nurses Janelle and Angie are in the field making individual connections with people, seeing the different ways the people live in the different towns. Giithu has poor people even though they grow cash crops (Miraa – a local drug), but they don’t want to spare the agricultural space for food, so they’re in need of land. Ngage is a big open poorer area where the ground is less desired but looks nicer to our mazungo eye. They have plenty of land, but very little will grow on it, so the people are much needier. Kunati has more children not in school and the poor people were poorer. I wonder what we will find at the last two places we have planned. Janelle and Angie have been so inspiring and bold, working in the field with Olympia and Nelly, both in the medical profession to help translate the language and culture. Angie and Janelle jumped right into the regular hospital clinics on Monday and Tuesday with no translator, and without clear definition of what to do on Wednesday, developing the survey only that morning, they headed out as a band of 4 to see what would happen. They meet poor people, were greeted into homes, offered food they’re not supposed to eat as their stomachs can’t handle the untreated water, asked about all the hardships in their life, and somehow left the people with a smile on their face, some deworming pills, and an experience where a mazungo from the other side of the world cared enough to sit with them and give them hope. This task was a hard request as there’s no clear outcome for this project, only the prospects of future projects for the area, two to three hours in a combi, and walking in the hot sun, but Janelle and Angie took on the challenge with a smile and sought out the positive aspects. I am inspired by their trust and acceptance.
Keilah’s charcoal press is right on schedule (which is early for Kenya time). She has done a great job working with the Athwana Polytechnic and showing the boys that even girls can be engineers. She has been accompanied by Kelvin in the field, a friendly translator, and taken on the modification of her press, purchasing materials, and working along among Kenyans. The rest of our teams are in pairs, so I’m impressed by her independent abilities and see great things for her future as an Industrial Engineer. She will bring the press Monday to the farmers at Kinwe to finish the project that began in Oct 2013. When Ted and I met to suggest this project, I had no expectations that it would culminate in such a meaningful learning experience for the students as well as the Kenyans.
Peter and Brady have been great comical relief, as evidenced in their fantastic blog. They have worked hard and were the most concentrated and frustrated of all of the teams. They spent two whole days working on their project thinking. Then I’d come along and shoot holes in their new design, sending them back to the drawing board. I think they dreaded seeing me, even stating at one point that they never want to see a wheelchair again! As often happens though in engineering, even though it took much iteration, they came upon a good prototype that will work well for the client. Much to their dismay, there is an additional iteration needed after this proof of concept is built to make the design more usable in Kenya and Canada, but they were willing to try so they could have something interesting for their Engineering Expo in April at UPEI. They’re now building at the polytechnic and I hope they will complete the design on Monday. All of the changes we’re making to Catherine’s wheelchair have been nerve-wrecking for me; if we do something she doesn’t like or the work is done poorly, her only way of getting around is compromised, as the wheelchair was donated. I have a lot of confidence in Peter and Brady’s abilities and their creativity, endurance, and openness to try and try again. They will be shining examples of the first graduates of UPEI’s Sustainable Design Engineering Degree in two years.
Our fourth team, though rarely mentioned, have been working quietly in one of the neediest places in Kenya. At the Chaaria Mission Hospital, I found Mary on Friday caring for Kevin, a sad soul huddled in pain with a serious disability. He was not moving and only his eyes seem to convey information. He was covered in bedsores (15 at least) and Mary was addressing the sores, one by one, stroking Kevin and speaking to him as she goes from one to the next, adding brown sugar to help the wounds heal before wrapping them up for another day. I tried not to run from the bed and focused only on keeping my breakfast down, while Mary was working efficiently, with compassion, and consoling Kevin the whole time, not seeming to notice the necrotic tissue and huge open wounds. It was inspiring. She thought she would help around the hospital, but not in a nursing capacity, so to see her thrown in the ward looking so natural, it was obvious her nursing training was quickly recalled. Clearly by her sweet nature, she was in the perfect place to help Kevin and many others. You can see only that which is holy in Mary’s kindness embodying the sentiment ‘as you do for others, you do for me…’. Barry was busy at work and decided to stay the remainder of the time at Chaaria, helping in the surgical ward, not even taking the weekend off.
In between all of these amazing teams, I have been in meetings and watching them work and do great things. I spent Wednesday down in Nairobi on an administrative mission with Martin. We were up at 6am, on a matatu (though not one as crazy as Brady and Peter’s) headed to Nairobi. There were 7 seats and 7 passengers. The car had a speed limiter, preventing it from going above 80 km/hr. The only crazy part was the woman holding a baby in her lap. That is not something I’ve seen in my lifetime, having grown up with seatbelts and now seeing western children in boosters until they’re practically driving themselves. The quick trip to the capitol didn’t have too many items of note… We had a three-hour meeting that started only an hour late, (not bad), but did not get caught up in the crazy traffic and managed to grab a bite each way. On the ride back, we were in a 10 person matatu with 10 passengers, but this one had only a shrill noise when the driver went above 80km/hr (instead of a limiter). Between the high whine of the speeding indicator, competing with the radio blaring an African choir singing popular Christian music, and the person near me playing their music on their cell phone to combat the other noises, I was surprised because while reading my book, I didn’t notice this cacophony until an hour into the drive. I have been in Kenya too long, perhaps.
I have sat in on board meetings as well, to hear how all of the projects and decisions are made in Kenya. It’s different than the board meetings in Canada, where we meet upstairs in the police station, in comfortable plush chairs, looking at the laptop projected on a screen with fluorescent lighting and linoleum floors. In Mikinduri, we were in the rehabilitation center and MHCDO office, sitting around 4 different tables put together, on plastic, unsteady chairs, with a cock crowing in the background, a few notebooks but no electronics, ambient light from outside, and concrete floor. The hearts and passion of the people around the table were the same, though, with an identical goal to help the poorest of the poor.
Sadly, the principal of one of the schools where we have a feeding program died from natural causes. He was also a board member and very influential in improving the lives of many children. As an outsider, it was interesting to see how people respond and the local traditions. The burial is this Wednesday, and I am told it will start with a procession of the body (a 40 minute drive) followed by mass and a burial. That sounds similar to Canada. However, instead of a wake where people say ‘sorry for your troubles’ to family members standing in a specific order, as they do in Canada, in Kenya you visit the family to pay condolences as many times as you can before the wake, including helping financially to pay for the burial. I will be going on Monday to pay my respects as well, as Mr Kirimi helped our organization tremendously.
The biggest thing to note is how often I see my past teammembers around me. The places we’ve been bring so many memories. I see Karen when we’re packing up a bag to bring to the orphanage. I look for Cheri once we’re around the children to see if the big-hearted muzongo is crying yet. On a lazy Sunday, I look for Jennifer to lay out and read in the sun while doing laundry. I look for Shawna in the front seat of the combi chatting with Paul, our driver. I walk back to my room expecting to see Ted working on his computer. It’s shadows of sweet memories everywhere I turn, and I’m happy to get the chance to make more memories each day.